Holy Family of Saint Joseph, the Blessed Mary, and their Child Jesus- Dec. 30,
3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15; 19-23
The Holy Family of Nazareth, the Model of our Families Today
Last Sunday, we celebrated the nativity of our Lord, and today,
the Church invites us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Saint
Joseph, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and their Child Jesus. The Bible readings
suggested today focus on the rights and responsibilities that we have toward
each other in our families.
The book of Sirach also known as Ecclesiasticus that we heard in
our first reading is composed of fifty chapters of wisdom literature. It was
written between the years 200 and 175 BC by the Jewish scribe known as Ben
Sira. This book contains ethical themes and poetic sayings. The theological
message of this book is that building up the right relationships in a family
(between husband and wife, parents/grandparents and children/grandchildren, young
and old, rich and poor, black and white people, etc.) ultimately leads to
better reverence of God.
In our passage, Sirach instructs us on what each member of the
family is expected to do to each other in order to be in good harmony with God
and with one another. Sirach teaches us the application of natural virtues in
daily life. This short reading has two parts. In the first part, the author is
teaching children the virtues that they need to do toward their parents. He
says that when they honor their fathers, they atone for sins, and preserve
themselves from them. When they revere their mothers, they store up riches. By
honoring are respecting their parents, these children will live long lives and
God hears their prayers when they pray to him. (Vv. 2-6). The second part
concern the responsibilities of children toward their parents in their old age.
Sirach invites us children to take care of our parents when they are old. As
long as they live, we should not grieve them, even when their minds fail. The
kindness that we express to our parents will not be forgotten. (Vv.
The wisdom that Sirach teaches us is of particular importance for
our families as many are very fragile today. There is so much anger, hate, and
division that is damaging our families. Here Sirach calls each of us to
manifest care and concern for familial relationships. Note that Sirach relates
our family relationships to the reverence of God. This means, the more we
strive to honor the relationships of our household, the more we come to revere
God. When we extend our compassion to one another and care for everyone, God
will great us what we ask him in our prayers.
Saint Paul, in our second reading, exhorts us in the same
direction. He invites us to put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness, and patience. He also asks us to bear with one another and forgive
one another as the Lord has forgiven us. in everything that we do, we must let
the peace of Christ control our hearts and the Word of God dwell in us richly.
He then calls us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and give thanks to
God. Here Saint Paul refers to the liturgy of the Eucharist that we celebrate
at Mass. When we follow all these pieces of advice, we make our families become
the families that God created us to be.
This type of Christian family that Sirach and saint Paul call us
to is well understood in the life of the Holy family of Saint Joseph, the
Blessed Virgin Mary, and their child Jesus. Note that when we call them “Holy
family”, this does not mean that they never had trials to face in their lives.
This Holy family was like our families today. They experienced all suffering
that we endure today. As each follower
of Jesus has a cross to carry, so Saint Joseph and the Blessed Mother Mary had
to experience the cross in their shared life. For instance, we can imagine how
misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been about the conception of Jesus
before they came to live together. Joseph was even planning to divorce Mary quietly
before the angel of the Lord appeared to him and commanded him to take Mary his
wife into his home because the child is from the Holy Spirit. (See my homily of
the 4th Sunday of Advent). Nine months later, the birthplace of
Jesus was a manger, (feeding place for the sheep) since they could not find a better
lodging. Our today’s Gospel brings us one more example of their painful lives.
As the refugees of our time from war-torn countries have to flee to save their
lives, Jesus’ parents had to flee as refugees to Egypt to protect their child
from king Herod who intended to kill him.
This story of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt and returning to
the land of Israel in Matthew’s Gospel makes perfect sense considering his audience
of Jewish Christians. Here, Matthew intends to place Jesus’ story into the
framework of the Exodus experience of Israel (Jacob’s children) sojourning in
Egypt at the time of famine and their return to Canaan by the guidance of God
through Moses. This fulfills Hosea’s prophecy that says, “Out of Egypt I called
my son”. (Hosea 11: 1). Joseph (Jacob’s son) in a dream was told to remain in
Egypt and he obeyed God’s command. In the same way, Joseph, Jesus’ legal
father, obeys God’s command in a dream to take Jesus and his mother and flee to
Egypt; and later when the danger was cleared, the angel of God asks him again
in a dream to return to the land of Israel.
After the Holy family returned to the land of Israel, we do not
hear of Joseph anymore. We presume that he died before Jesus began his public
ministry. Then, the public life of Jesus must have taken its toll on Mary. In
the Temple when Jesus was an infant, we recall the prediction of the old Simeon
saying that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. Later, we can imagine
how the Blessed Mother has been pained to hear his enemies say that Jesus was a
glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. And at the end,
how she watched her son die in public disgrace on the cross like a criminal.
Considering all trials that our Gospel passage mentioned and those
from other Gospel stories that I evoked, our question will be to find out what
really sustained the Holy Family of Nazareth through all these trials and
crosses. The answer is love, trust, and the virtues that Saint Paul mentioned
in our second reading. Saint Joseph put the care of his family above his own
well-being. Also, he trusts God’s intervention. He did hesitate to leave his
homeland and his work and go in a foreign land where he did not have any clue.
We are called to imitate the love and trust of Saint Joseph.
A major threat to our family lives nowadays is that we don’t spend
enough time together. We are so busy with our jobs, electronic devices, and
traveling for leisure that we have no time to talk to each other. The following
story can inspire us: A barrister, a busy career woman, was living just ten
kilometers from her old, widowed father. But months often passed between her
visits to him; and when her father texted to ask when she might bring his
grandchildren to visit him, she detailed lots of reasons that kept her too busy
to see him, court schedules, meetings, new clients, research, etc. Her father
frowned and then asked, ‘When I die, will you come to my funeral?’ The daughter
was indignant. “Dad, how can you ask me that? Of course, I’ll be there!” He
smiled and said, “Aah! Then please forget my funeral and come to visit me now.
I need you now more than I will then.” Message understood – and his daughter
began to visit him regularly after that.
We pray that our families, though facing many trials, may be able
to discern the will of God for the good of our households. Amen.
Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD